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The 5 principles of language learning

The most important thing when studying other languages is to learn how to learn them. Lots of people spend many years studying languages in inefficient ways and end up judging themselves as “not intelligent enough to learn foreign languages”, which is definitely not the case. In the following paragraphs we’ll discuss 5 key principles that you need to know and follow to be able to learn languages successfully. Those are principles that I have discovered after many years studying English and Japanese (I’m from Brazil. My native language is not English.). I truly think that if you’re serious about foreign language learning you have to know and understand these principles well. I wish I’d known them when I started studying foreign languages!

Spend time with the language

In order to master a foreign language you must spend as much time as possible with it. Spending time with the language doesn’t imply you need to study it several hours a day. Basically you just need to make sure that you’re constantly in touch with the language you’re learning. Things you can do include: listen to music in the language, watch movies in the language, change your computer operational system (Windows, Mac OS, Linux, etc.) to the language, etc. As long as you are in contact with the language you’re learning it. The number one mistake of numerous foreign language learners is that the only time they spend with the language is in the classroom. Never do that!

Comprehension comes first

“When I’ll start speaking?” is undoubtedly one of the most asked questions by language learners. However, if you want to learn how to speak a language you have to understand it first. That’s the natural process of learning languages. First you understand the language, and only then you start to speak it. That’s the way it works for a baby, that’s how it works when you move to another country. Focus your studies more on understanding the language that the speaking will happen naturally.


You can have the perfect course, the most effective tutors, and the best resources, however, if you are not motivated to learn, it simply won’t happen. To be able to learn with success you must boost your motivation. There are lots of tips on how to achieve that, like studying with friends, using a nice language program, studying content you like, etc. However, according to my experience, the best single way to raise your motivation is just to notice that you’re learning. When students see that they are learning, they just want to study more! That’s why you need to look for ways of studying effectively, so you can see your progress and get more motivated.


Eventually you’ll find out that no one can teach you a language and only you can learn it! Coaches and courses can assist you, but you’re the only person in control of your learning process. If you don’t study on your own and don’t look for better and more effective methods of learning, you’ll progress at a slow pace or perhaps don’t progress at all. All language learners, including those starting foreign language courses, have to aim to become self-learners as their ultimate objective, since that will allow them to learn not only one, but as many foreign languages as they want.

Ability to notice

The most crucial skill that a language leaner needs to have is the ability to notice foreign language patterns. When studying a foreign language, you have to be capable of notice patterns and learn without the need of grammatical explanations. I am not proclaiming that you need to learn just observing the language; however you have to be able to understand new sentences and texts based on things that you already understand. Language learners that “learn faster” usually are those that can notice language patterns, understand, and start using them without a teacher or language learning manual. The fact is they do not learn faster, they just have a better way of learning. In order to do that you have to be an active language learner: You have to notice, make use of, and experiment with the language, without the fear of making mistakes. Doing that will make you familiar with the language, which subsequently will develop your ability to notice patterns.

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